AQA new specification · English · Teaching Ideas

Preparing for a Paper 2 exam

We looked at two texts about prisons. One from Henry Mayhew (19th century) and one from a blog post written by Alex Cavendish (see here for the blog). The two texts are reproduced below:

Source A: Henry Mayhew visits a prison

The next moment a stream of some dozen or two prisoners poured from the cells, carrying their coats on their arms, and drew themselves up in two files across the centre corridor. Then we heard the warder cry, “Cleaners, face! – Cooks, face! – Bakers, face!” whereupon the men wheeled round with almost military precision, and retired, some to wash the entrance passages and offices, others to help in the kitchen, and others in the bakehouse.
By this time (ten minutes past six), the prison was all alive, and humming like a hive with the activity of its inmates. Some of the convicts, clad in their suits of mud-brown cloth, were out in the long corridors sweeping the black asphalt* pavement till it glistened again as if polished with black-lead. Others, in the narrow galleries above, were on their knees washing the flags of slate that now grew blue-black around them with the water; others, again, in the centre corridor, were hearthstoning* the steps, and making them as white as slabs of biscuit-china; and others, too, in their cells, cleaning the floors and furniture there. A warder stood watching the work on each of the little mid-air bridges that connect the opposite storeys of every corridor, whilst other officers were distributed throughout the building, so as to command the best points for observing the movements of the prisoners.
Our attendant led us to an elevated part of the building, so that we might have a bird’s-eye view of the scene; and assuredly it was a strange sight to look down upon the long arcade-like corridors, that were now half-fogged with the cloud of dust rising from the sweepers’ brooms, and witness the bustle and life of that place, which on our entrance seemed as still as so many cloisters; while the commingling of the many different sounds-the rattling of pails, the banging of doors, the scouring of the stones, the rumbling of trucks, the tramping of feet up the metal stairs, all echoing through the long tunnels-added greatly to the peculiarity of the scene.
The officer now drew our attention to the fact that the hands of the clock were pointing to the time he had mentioned, and that the men who had been at work along one side of the galleries had all finished, and withdrawn. Then began the same succession of noises – like the clicking, as we have said, of so many musket-triggers – indicating the unlocking of the opposite cells; and we could see, whence we stood, the officers hastening along the corridors, unfastening each door, as they went, with greater rapidity than even lamplighters travel from lamp to lamp along a street; and immediately afterwards we beheld a fresh batch of cleaners come out into each gallery, and the sweepers below cross over and begin working under them, whilst the same noises resounded through the building as before.


Source B: Alex Cavendish goes back to prison

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 18.13.06


What we did…

The  first thing we did was think about inferences we could make about the Mayhew text.


Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 18.17.55

I used this slide to get students to think about the inferences they can make whilst reading; they then had a go at the other paragraphs on their own. See below for some examples.


I was so impressed by the way my group was able to pick out some incisive inferences: they picked up on things like the sense of order and control, the references to surveillance; the movement from the ‘humming’ to the cacophony that is described in the second part of the extract (this would be good for structural analysis!); the way that order and control is maintained through discipline and organised labour. Although this activity is not linked explicitly to any question, we all know that the ability to read and infer meaning unlocks every reading question.

The next task is to ask students to think of some true/false statements. I gave them a couple to think about, getting them to consider whether these statements were true or false

1.The prisoners appear disorganised; 2.This is a prison for cooks, cleaners and bakers only.

The second one created the most discussion – the reference to cooks, cleaners and bakers is there in the text and many students thought that this was true; it took some convincing for me to get them to agree that it was false! Once the students get the hang of this, it’s good to get them to devise their own true/false statements. This is harder than you think. If you look in the text, there is a reference to ‘musket-triggers’ and one pupil thought that it was true to say that the guards were armed. This is such a good discussion point: how some questions might be misleading (the musket triggers are used as a simile to describe the sound of unlocking cells) and so we’re reinforcing the importance of reading the text carefully.

Click here to look at QUESTION 2




2 thoughts on “Preparing for a Paper 2 exam

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